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Benefits and Contraindications of Massage

Massage is generally considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It's increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions and situations.

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage helpful for:

  • Stress relief
  • Managing anxiety and depression
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Blood pressure control
  • Infant growth
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Boosting immunity
  • Cancer treatment

Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, some people enjoy massage because it often involves caring, comfort, a sense of empowerment and creating deep connections with their massage therapist.

Despite its benefits, massage isn't meant as a replacement for regular medical care.. Let your doctor know you're trying massage and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans you have.

Although more controlled trials are needed, the findings have included the following:

  • Hospitalized patients who were massaged attributed greater mobility, increased energy, positive mood changes, and a faster rate of recovery to massage therapy.
  • Chronic low back pain sufferers reported experiencing less pain, depression, and anxiety--as well as improved sleep--after receiving two 30-minute massage sessions a week for five weeks. Other studies have been contradictory, however; therefore, more research is needed in this area.
  • Office workers who were massaged regularly were more alert, performed better, and were less stressed than those who weren't massaged.
  • Patients with fibromyalgia who received 30-minute massages twice a week for five weeks reported less pain, less stiffness, and less fatigue, as well as fewer nights of difficult sleeping. More studies are needed in this area.
  • In burn patients, massage therapy decreased emotional effects (anxiety, tension, depression) and physical symptoms (pain and itching).

Massage has also been shown to have a profound effect on children as well as adults. Premature infants who were massaged, for example, gained weight and were released from the hospital sooner than those who were not massaged. Autistic children showed less erratic behavior after massage.Other ailments that have responded to massage include chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine, and sciatica.

Contraindications of Massage:

Patients with certain medical conditions could be harmed by receiving a massage. Those who should not get massage therapy include patients with blood clots, fractures, or active disease in the area to be massaged. Patients taking blood-thinning or anticoagulant medications or those who have a low platelet count, bone metastasis, and certain blood disorders should not receive deep tissue massage. A variety of other medical conditions, such as skin fragility after radiation treatment or chemotherapy, infections, bone metastasis, excess fluid around the lungs, or lymphedema, may require adjustments in massage therapy.

Massage is believed to positively affect everything from circulation to the body's metabolism. Swedish massage in particular has been shown to relieve muscle pain, reduce stress, and improve immune function. It can also enhance respiratory function, reduce edema (swelling) due to blocked lymphatic vessels, and aid in the healing of soft-tissue injuries.

Many of the stress-related benefits of massage have never been documented by scientific studies, but during the past 20 years an impressive body of research--mainly on Swedish massage--has nevertheless accumulated. Much of this work was conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Touch Research Institute, and several studies have been funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Massage is generally safe as long as it's done by a trained massage therapist. But massage isn't appropriate for everyone. Discuss massage with your doctor first in cases of:

  • Unexplained pain or other symptoms
  • Burns or open wounds
  • Cancer
  • Blood clots
  • Fractures
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Pregnancy (in most cases just the first 12 weeks)

Some forms of massage can leave you feeling a bit sore the next day. But massage shouldn't be painful or uncomfortable. If any part of your massage doesn't feel right or is painful, speak up right away. Most serious problems come from too much pressure during massage.

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